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Brideshead Revisited Eden Essay

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“There is a snake in Eden; corruption in paradise.” To what extent do you agree that the Brideshead estate embodies a corrupted paradise in the novel? June 2010 Within the context of pastoral literature, change is typically seen as a destructive force, intrinsic with the movement away from a harmony with the natural world towards modernisation and corruption. In ‘Brideshead Revisited’ the same pattern appears to be followed; moving from the peaceful harmony of Sebastian and Charles’ life in Oxford into corruption and turmoil or the shifting power balance between the social classes, from the nobility to the lower classes. However, change is not exclusively a negative force in the novel.
The title of book one ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ suggests that even in paradise there is corruption or more accurately, death. The slightly morbid dorm room décor of Charles’ in book one which includes a skull as an ornament suggests that there is more to than meets the eye in reference to appearances in Brideshead revisited. Although Oxford appears to have been one of the places Charles remembers most fondly, there still is evidence of corruption/sinister events to come.
Another places which exposes this paradise/death dichotomy is in the two passages from book one when Charles and Sebastian are picnicking and Sebastian states, ‘Just the place to bury a crock of gold…I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I was old and miserable I could come back and dig it up and remember.’ Early into his narration Charles presents happiness and memories being corrupted by age and its subsequent effect on the mind and body. Sebastian refers to needing reminded of his happy memories which illustrates how the mind is corrupted and damaged with age and even though they are having a wonderful day they are aware that it will not last forever.
Charles’ and Sebastian’s first encounter into Rex’s world of manipulation and smooth talk is shown to be nothing but a negative experience. Waugh describes their first encounter with the girls at May Mayfield’s as a “sickly child” and “Death’s Head”, names foreshadowing the downfall and deterioration that will result. It is as a result of this night that Sebastian is arrested and tried for drunk-driving, and introduces them to the realities of adult life. It is because of this episode that the Marchmain family are shamed in the newspaper, perhaps worsening Lady Marchmains over reaction to Sebastian’s drinking later in the novel. This illustrates clearly how even in these youthful days that Charles cherishes so much, there was chaos which corrupted the serene life with Sebastian which he chooses not to dwell on.
Waugh presents corruption in terms of the hierarchy of society, with the nobility exclusively privileged to positions of power, as nought but as negative through his portrayal of Hooper. Charles states in the prologue that Hooper is a “symbol to me of Young Britain”; notably Hooper is not presented as an overly inspiring, promising or likeable character. The use of “young” has connotations of the working class were just ‘coming of age’ and beginning to have the means to hold positions of power and influence, as well as suggesting a major change in the Britain; an ‘old’ way of life has been left to be replaced by a new one. It could be argued that Charles is presenting the traditional world as being corrupted with the changing, modernised world.
Catholicism is a main focus of Brideshead Revisited. From hurried pre-wedding conversions to dinner-table debates on dogma, religion dominates the novel’s thematic focus. Every character struggles with religion in one way or another, even our agnostic narrator. The one concept everyone seems to agree on is that to be holy is to suffer. In accordance with this principle, the most religious characters in the novel choose to suffer to be closer to God. Waugh explained that his intention was for every character to accept divine grace in their own way, though critics disagree on whether the novel ultimately reads for or against Catholicism. It can be interpreted that religion corrupts the lives of characters within the novel. Sebastian, for instance, is conflicted with living in accordance with the religious beliefs of his family and being torn between feeling unable to be his true self.
Alcoholism is at the centre of Brideshead Revisited and essentially corrupts and destroys the beautiful, charming Sebastian. The alcoholism itself is driven by a slew of other problems, namely family and religion. Sebastian subsequently turns to alcohol as a means of escaping, retreating further and further into self-imposed isolation by means of intense bouts of drinking. As is said many times in the novel, alcohol is used primarily as an escape. Cara states "Sebastian drinks too much." To which Charles replies, "I suppose we both do." However, Cara isn’t just saying that Sebastian drinks differently than Charles – she’s also telling Charles that he is nothing like his friend. Sebastian’s qualities, his eccentricities, his aesthetic awareness; these are unattainable attributes for Charles. "With you it does not matter. I have watched you together. With Sebastian it is different. He will be a drunkard if someone does not come to stop him. I have known so many. Alex was nearly a drunkard when he met me; it is in the blood. I see it in the way Sebastian drinks. It is not your way."
Within Charles’ narration as he portrays an idealized version of country life as in accordance with the pastoral genre, it is clear that despite the obvious beauty of the Brideshead estate and the utopia he experiences when in the presence of its inhabitants, there are corruptions to the veneer of perfection and purity. Due to the fact this novel centred around the theme of religion, the vision of a snake in the garden of Eden could be used to portray the imperfections which corrupt the arcadian world Charles thinks he lives in.

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